The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 290: Let's All Marshal in the Marshalls

That map again

The Philadelphian lifted from Guam's air station as evening was spreading across the sky. On the field below, other ships rode from the masts: sturdy packets, sleek patrol vessels, and a great Pan American Clipper. In one corner of the complex, handlers were deflating a uniquely unattractive blimp -- some relic, perhaps, of the War. They paused to wave to the departing vessel.

In the control car, the mood was cheerful. Emily and Clarice lingered on the bridge, hoping someone might tell them where they were headed, but the crew were busy at their stations, Mister Cartwell was poring over a chart with Captain Collins, and their Aunt Behema had never been significantly more approachable than her biblical namesake. At last, controlling their impatience, the two young women retired to the radio shack.

To their delight, the ether was alive with signals. A flurry of coded messages was coming from the island behind them, as if the place had just sprouted a forest of secret radio transmitters. Emily jotted down the strings of characters and compared them with her notes.

"Can you decipher any of that?" asked Clarice.

"Not yet," said the brunette, "but some of these codes seem familiar, and I believe I recognize some of the hands."

"Do you reckon they've anything to do with our hassles in town?"

"It's hard to say," Emily replied with a straight face. "Could be those chappies in Piti are always pinching aunts from visiting airships."

Clarice giggled. "Dinki-di! But why would anyone want to kidnap our Aunt Behema?"

"I wonder if they were trying to kidnap her," Emily mused. "Maybe they were after us and got her by mistake."

"In yer boot!" cried Clarice. "No one would want to nick both of us. Me, perhaps, but no one would ever go after you..."

Emily's eyes sparkled as she took up the cudgels. "They'd take one look at you and..."

"They'd trade you for Aunt..."

"Did I hear someone mention my name?" came a prim voice behind them. They turned to see a familiar face studying them with a familiar expression of disapproval.

"Maybe," Clarice said brightly. "We were just wondering if you knew where we're going."

If a buffalo could have laughed, it might have sounded much like their aunt. "Nice one!" she snorted. "We'll be heading for Kwajelein next. It's an island in the Marshall group. Vincent thinks that's where the squidbat photograph was posted from. Now why don't you two young ladies get back to work?"

Stairs creaked as the matron climbed the companionway. When she was safely out of earshot, Emily and Clarice exchanged glances. "The Marshalls?" Emily said in wonder. "Isn't that where we went last year with Captain Everett?"

"Yes," said Clarice. "That's where that island blew up. Maybe that bizzo on Guam had something to do with us after all."

Pago Pago, American Samoa, was a surprisingly busy port. The roadstead was filled with dozens of vessels, from proud visiting warships to lowly island schooners. More lay alongside the wharves, unloading and taking on cargoes from throughout the Western Pacific.

In this maze of shipping, the Todstalker passed unnoticed. Sigmund had ordered his men to anchor on the far side of the harbor. Now he stood on the schnellboot's armored bridge, studying the air station through a spotting scope. Several vessels rode from the masts, but there was no sign of their quarry. This was not a promising development.

A hatch swung open and Artur entered the compartment. "Mein Herr," he announced, "We have received a report from our people on Guam. The American ship departed this evening. They were unable to capture the British agents."

The Fat Man's lieutenant scowled. "Did they offer any explanation for their failure?"

"No, Mein Herr. It seems they ran into some unspecified difficulties. But they were able to obtain a copy of the vessel's departure clearance. This lists her destination as Kwajelein in the Marshall Islands."

Sigmund turned away from the window and unrolled a chart. He might not have trained as a navigator, but warriors of the coming Reich were expected to be competent at every important skill. "They will have a headwind," he mused. "They will also have to resupply after they reach the Station. This will give us a chance to catch them. How soon can we depart?"

"Manstein took a party into town to find parts for one of his air compressors. That maid asked permission to accompany them so she could visit the market. They should be back within the hour."

"Good," said Sigmund. "We will leave as soon as they're aboard."

Miss Perkins had no fear of being recognized. After weeks of dressing as a crone, she could rely on her real appearance as a disguise. She strolled down Pago Pago's main street, ignoring the wolf-whistles, secure in the peculiar form of anonymity that came with being an attractive woman. At last she reached the telegraph station.

The clerk at the desk looked up as she stepped through the door. It didn't take much imagination to guess his thoughts when he noticed she'd arrived alone. He brushed back his hair and adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses.

"How can I help you Miss..."

"...Anderson," she replied. "I would like to send a message to my fiancé in Cairns."

The man hid his disappointment well. "That will be fifty cents a word," he replied.

Everett studied his log entry and nodded. The challenge, as always, was to record enough to justify their actions without revealing details that might come back to haunt them during an inquiry.

June 30 1927, 0700 hrs. Lat, 11 45 N, Long 144 30' E. Our visit to Goodenough Island uncovered evidence that may relate to the attack on the Shiratori Maru, but its significance remains to be determined. We are proceeding to the Mariana Islands to investigate the packet's intended destination.

MacKiernan's voice crackled over the intercom. "Captain, we've just raised Guam."

"Thank you. I'll be there directly."

By the time Everett reached the control car, the harbor at Apra Bay was in sight. Several modern ships were moored at the air station. Their clean businesslike lines proclaimed five to be American. Through binoculars, the captain recognized two Los Angeles Class, two Amarillos, and one of the Pan American Airship Line's new liners. Beside them, a Wolesely looked trim, graceful, and entirely out of place. RNAS rondels were plainly visible on her hull and fins.

Everett studied the vessel with a frown, then called the upper lookout station. "Davies, can you make out her number?"

The marine had no trouble guessing which ship he meant. "It's the R-87, sir."

"She's a long way from Cairns," MacKiernan remarked. "Does Harris still have her?"

"No," said Everett, "there were some unanswered questions regarding the man's actions when Lieutenant Blacker resurfaced to steal our report on the Ujelang Event. I believe she's now Saunders's command."

"Whatever could they be doing in Guam?"

Everett hid his misgivings. "I imagine we'll find out."

The mooring operation went smoothly -- with fellow countrymen to impress, the Flying Cloud's people were on their toes. When the evolution was complete, Everett nodded to his bridge crew and made his way to the bow station, followed by his aide. They found Michaelson waiting at the foot of the mooring mast.

"So," snapped the senior captain, "there you are. I expected you an hour ago."

Everett knew better than to protest. "We shall endeavor to do better next time," he replied smoothly. "We didn't expect to see you here, sir."

"That is as it should be," Michaelson replied. "What is the status of your consumables?"

"We're at 70% hydrogen, with 1800 gallons of fuel and 4200 lbs of ballast," Everett replied. The flight from Goodenough, with a quartering tailwind most of the way, had not been particularly expensive.

Michaelson was silent for a moment, as if he was performing some sort of calculation. His face gave away nothing of his thoughts. "That will suffice," he announced. "You will lift ship within the hour and return to Cairns. I will be taking over this investigation."

Next week: When First We Practice To Deceive...

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